How toxic is chocolate for your pets?

By Charlie Powell, Tooth & Nail

Recently, during a tour of Washington State University’s veterinary teaching hospital and after seeing the array of high-tech equipment, a grandparent of a prospective student asked, “so how much does it really cost to own a pet today?”

The answer is, it is up to the owner to decide. Chances are, a dog living 12 to 14 years, is likely to cost $10,000 or more. Without enumerating all the obvious things like food, toys and routine visits to the veterinarian’s office, the remainder of the expenses will be decided by the owners.

My generation — I’m 63 years old and counting — looked on animals differently. Their existence was more cohabitational and utilitarian. My parents never bought an ounce of dog food until after the kids left home. Dogs ate table scraps and lived outside most of the time.

Things like diarrhea and vomiting were not things to take a dog to a veterinarian for unless perhaps they lasted a long time and the dog looked sick. We never boarded a dog, they traveled with us for what little we did. Again, their food was table scraps and my dad would always have some greasy spoon, “fry up an extra patty for my dog to go, please.” And go they did. Dad always wondered why our dog vomited in the car and had diarrhea.

Fortunately, none of our dogs broke a limb. Had they done so, we’d have either had a three-legged dog or a new dog, depending on the break.

When transferred by the military, we didn’t euthanize our dogs. But my family never was stationed overseas in places requiring as much as a six-month quarantine for pets at the time. Lots of military families faced with that did seek euthanasia. A few left them behind with a new family, and a portion simply took them out and set them loose or shot them away from the kids.

Today, pets are part of the family in ways never thought of before. There has never been a greater demand for state-of-the-art veterinary services. Even the word “pets” encompass a broader spectrum than ever. The word “pets” includes many species. Today, even horses are considered “companion livestock.”

In many, if not most cases now, not paying for a fractured leg and opting for a perfectly legal and ethical amputation carries a certain social stigma. It means to many that you are not a good pet parent and could not, or would not, pay for surgery to repair the fracture.

Back to the costs of such care. They vary widely by locale. Nonetheless, pet parents today will routinely opt for the most competent care, which is often the most expensive, even if they do not have the money to pay for it. Putting such care on a credit card or through a service, such as Care Credit, is routine in the absence of broadly accepted pet care insurance.

So-called “pet debt,” is common. Sometimes people seek crowdsource funding, too. Many times, the money rolls in if a person can write a good enough pitch and include a few pictures before and perhaps after the pet, say, jumped out of the moving car.

Sometimes, despite money from the compassionate crowd, pet owners look at the cash then look at the bill for services already rendered and decide the cash could help them in other ways. Stiffing a veterinarian goes unseen.

Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email

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